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Abbey National advert

​Abbey National advert

​The Abbey National Building Society Archive

Jo Vietzke, Archivist and Richard Wiltshire, Senior Archivist (Business Archives) tell us more about the origins and scope of the Abbey National Building Society archives.

Historical background

The first building societies appeared in Britain during the 18th century. Birmingham, with its explosion of industry and increase in wealth, appears to have been the initial epicentre of the movement. The earliest known society is Ketley’s Building Society which was founded in 1775 at the Golden Cross Inn by its publican Richard Ketley. Members of Ketley's society paid a monthly subscription to a central pool of funds which was used to finance the building of houses for members, which in turn acted as collateral to attract further funding to the society, enabling further construction. The societies of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were “terminating” societies. This meant that once all the members had successfully purchased their properties, the society ceased to exist. The possibility of a “permanent” society was first mooted in 1845 and was quickly followed by the first such society, the Metropolitan Equitable. Two such permanent societies founded in the 19th century were later to combine to create the Abbey National Building Society.

The Abbey Road Building Society

The Abbey Road Building Society was founded in 1874, based at a Baptist church on Abbey Road in Kilburn, in order to help its members to purchase their own homes.  Most of the Abbey Road records which are held date from the 20th century.

Rapid expansion meant that Abbey Road soon outgrew its shared premises and in 1927 the company moved into a large property on Baker Street which it subsequently refurbished in some style, including the addition of a bell tower.  Photographs of Abbey House can be found in the collection at LMA/4575/Q/01. The building was re-opened in 1932 by Ramsey MacDonald, who was then Prime Minister, and Josiah Stamp, the President of the Society. Photographs, instructions to staff on the big day and a commemorative brochure can be found in the archive under LMA/4575/P/03/03.

President of the Society for almost 20 years, Josiah Stamp was also one of the foremost economists of his day. An autodidact who worked his way up the Civil Service after leaving school at 16, Baron Stamp, as he would become, was also a Director of the Bank of England 1928-1931 and President of the executive of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. He acted as an advisor to government on various committees throughout his career and represented private organisations such as the Pilgrims Trust (LMA/4450). In spite of being a successful businessman and banker, he is credited with the quotation (often used in the last few years): “Banking was conceived in iniquity and born in sin…” His death, along with his wife and eldest son, during a World War II bombing raid, is commemorated in the archive with a file of personal and business condolences that hint at the affection and esteem in which he was held by a great many people (LMA/4575/L/09/01/002).

The National Building Society

The National Building Society set out with quite different aims to that of Abbey Road.  Its foundation meeting took place at the London Tavern, Bishopsgate in the City of London in 1849. The aim, as stated in the Society’s first prospectus, was “…to qualify members to vote at elections for counties.”  Although the suffrage had been enlarged by the 1832 Reform Act, many felt that reform had not gone far enough; the year before the Society’s foundation, 1848, had seen a mass Chartist march on the capital. The National was therefore set up to obtain land for its members to qualify them for the suffrage, rather than to finance homes. The founding fathers of the National included the radical politicians Richard Cobden, John Bright and Henry Elkington who were also active members of the Anti-Corn Law League.

It quickly became apparent that the commercial potential of the Society overshadowed the political aims of its well-meaning founders. Within two years the Directors of the Society held the “gigantic” sum of £24,000, but the subsequent three years saw this sum multiply ten-fold. As with Abbey Road, few of the earliest records survive. One volume of the “Property Committee” minutes dates from 1852 to 1854 while the minutes of the Members meeting are recorded from 1862 to 1943 (see LMA/4575/G). In addition, a full set of the ‘Freeholders’ Circular’ is held from 1852 giving details of land which was offered to members and recording the annual proceedings of the Society. No records of the British Land Company, a subsidiary firm established in 1856 which split from the Society in 1878, are held. 

Abbey Road Building Society advert

​Abbey Road Building Society advert.

​The merger and subsequent history

The collection holds rich advertising and other publicity information, examples of which are illustrated here. There are also policy files that provide evidence about the merger of the two Societies in 1944.  Minutes, correspondence and the files of “material information” that the companies compiled can be found in both the Abbey (LMA/4575/L/10) and National (LMA/4575/G/05) sections of the archive. Originally, the Woolwich was also party to the negotiations and one of the files (LMA/4575/L/10/03/001) contains correspondence relating to their withdrawal from the deal.

Much of the correspondence relating to the “union” is addressed to or from Limpley Stoke, Wiltshire. This is because the Abbey Road Building Society moved its headquarters from London to a hotel near Bath during the Second World War. The Society seems to have owned the premises and made use of them as offices and accommodation for the staff. The archive also contains a set of rules for occupants of the “hostel” which dictates that female members of staff shall clean their own rooms while single males will have their rooms seen to by the hotel cleaners (LMA/4575/N/01/002)!

The latest item in the collection dates from 1985 which means that the most recent, and probably most dramatic, part of the Abbey National story is not documented in this collection. In 1989, the Abbey National took advantage of the provisions of the 1986 New Building Societies Act to demutualise.  By becoming a Public Limited Company (PLC), the Abbey was the first Building Society to change its status to that of a bank. Santander subsequently took over the company which was rebranded in 2009/10 to become a recognisable part of the Santander Group.

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) would like to thank Santander for funding cataloguing of the Abbey National archive.

The full collection can be viewed on the LMA catalogue under reference code LMA/4575. The records are mainly available without prior appointment, although some minutes and other operational records are not yet available for access due to the customer and staff information they contain. Please contact LMA Enquires for further details.

Further information

 You can find out more about other archives relating to business and employment on our collections pages.

31 October 2012
Last Modified:
27 September 2019